Metabolism is the process your body uses to convert food into energy. We rely on our metabolism to think, breathe, digest, circulate blood and maintain our body temperature.
Metabolism is highly variable - between the sexes, between individuals and with age changes.
How many times have you grumbled about how much easier it is for a friend or a loved one to lose weight than you, despite making much less effort? Genetics plays a large role in determining our baseline metabolism but so do our own diet and lifestyle choices. That is where you have room to optimize your metabolism.
Think of it this way: Genetics loads the gun, but environment pulls the trigger!
There are many things you can do to optimize your metabolism. The key point to remember is consistency and patience. Work on healthy habits and a healthy weight will follow.
Regular exercise is helpful in burning calories and boosting your metabolism but be mindful not to binge on a high calorie, carb heavy meal or smoothie right after your workout. You may undo all your hard work! Instead, choose a healthy, protein-rich snack and hydrate well.
All forms of exercise are beneficial but strength training to build muscle mass is especially useful to boost metabolism. Interval training (short bursts of high-intensity moves) is a great metabolism booster and even 15-20 minute sessions once or twice a week make a difference.
Eat small, frequent meals
This is an oft-repeated advice for boosting metabolism but this pattern of eating is better suited to prevent a binge meal. When you haven’t eaten for an extended period, your body craves carbs and sugar, setting you up to overeat a high calorie meal, packed with high glycemic index carbs.
Refined carbs such as bagels, white bread, and potatoes, create a surge in insulin that in turn promotes storage of fat and may drive down your metabolic rate. Instead, choose proteins and healthy fats with each meal. This keeps you feeling full longer and prevents a surge in insulin. Proteins require more work from your body to break down and utilize as fuel, which also helps boost your metabolism.
Reduce alcohol consumption with dinner
This is particularly true with cocktails. You are more likely to consume more food than usual when you are drinking and are also less alert to the cues from your brain’s satiety center telling you to stop when you’ve eaten enough. Consuming alcohol also means that your liver is tied up detoxing the alcohol, diverting your food calories to be stored away as fat, rather than being burnt as fuel.
Get adequate sleep
Not only is sleep essential to maintaining metabolism but also for ensuring we make good food choices. When you are sleepy and tired, you are more likely to snack throughout the day in a subconscious effort to “perk up”.
Weight loss supplements and vitamins
Consider adding certain supplements that boost metabolism such as green tea extract, chromium and L-carnitine. Green tea comes with an extra benefit, too — its antioxidant properties which fight free radicals in the body, improve the aging process and lowering the risk of disease. It is important to remember that metabolic boosting supplements should never take the place of a healthy diet and regular exercise but merely help to support your goals.
There are several hormonal conditions that can play a role in disrupting metabolism and causing weight gain, such as hypothyroidism, insulin resistance and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It is important to have these correctly checked and treated. If you have symptoms suggestive of any of these, see your doctor to have a thorough diagnostic work up. More on this in subsequent posts from me. Stay tuned!
Last but not the least: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Our metabolism changes with age, with a tendency to slow down after the age of 40. This time also coincides with a gradual loss of lean muscle mass and increased body fat. It is best to start working on protecting and boosting metabolism during our younger years when lifestyle habits are setting in.
Maintaining a healthy metabolism is a long term plan so give it a start and stay the course!
Yours in good health,
Ashita Gupta MD